3 Questions: Ibrahim Cissé on using physics to decipher biology

Wednesday, July 22, 2020 - 20:02 in Biology & Nature

How do cells use physics to carry out biological processes? Biophysicist Ibrahim Cissé explores this fundamental question in his interdisciplinary laboratory, leveraging super-resolution microscopy to probe the properties of living matter. As a postdoc in 2013, he discovered that RNA polymerase II, a critical protein in gene expression, forms fleeting (“transient”) clusters with similar molecules in order to transcribe DNA into RNA. He joined the Department of Physics in 2014, and was recently granted tenure and a joint appointment in biology. He sat down to discuss how his physics training led him to rewrite the textbook on biology. Q: How does your work revise conventional models describing how RNA polymerases carry out their cellular duties? A: My interest in biology has always been curiosity-driven. As a physicist reading biology textbooks, I thought that transcription — the process by which DNA is made into RNA — was fully understood. It's so basic, and...

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